Assistant Director of Graduate Studies
My research and teaching range across both the “long eighteenth-century” (1660-1832) and the even longer “long Enlightenment,” the latter a philosophical problem traceable from the eighteenth century through its twentieth-century postwar dialecticalization. While I tend not to identify with any a particular subfield of scholarly interest or method, I do frequently find myself thinking about the early history of the English novel and the philosophical traditions with which it conspires. My published work has appeared in journals such as ELH, Studies in Romanticism, differences, Cultural Critique, Novel, Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation and a range of other peer-reviewed journals, and I’ve explored questions of eighteenth-century racial science and mimesis; travel narratives of Africa and racial impersonation; the baroque visual aesthetics of William Hogarth; the utterly strange intersection of enlightenment pornography and philology; revolutionary politics and the science of physiognomy; and the historical time of disaster.
I was trained at the University of Tulsa (B.A.), Columbia University (M.A.) and the University of Iowa (Ph.D.), and have held tenure-track and tenured positions at the University of South Alabama and Michigan State University respectively (at MSU I also served as Director of Graduate Studies in English). I moved to Vanderbilt in 2010, where I have taught undergraduate and graduate courses in eighteenth-century studies, romanticism and critical theory. In 2015-2016 I directed the Vanderbilt Cinema and Media Arts Program, and beginning in Fall 2016 I will serve as the Assistant Director of Graduate Studies in English.
At present, I am working on two book-length research projects between which I restlessly shuttle back and forth. The first, Catastrophe Enlightenment, examines the gradual shift from providential to secular accounts of catastrophic events beginning in the seventeenth century and ending in the romantic age. Catastrophe, I argue, exposes the mass (Hobbes) or the multitude (Spinoza) to time, laying bare in the process the event-structure of a history we now consider modern. In particular, its three chapters describe three forms of secular time kept by instances of mass mortality—e.g. a time of dwelling within the ruins of the present; the singular experience of suddenness; and the anticipation of the disaster to come—and consider how these new temporal modalities come to shape certain enlightenment genres of critical inquiry, including the novel, universal history, history painting, and early forms of what we might call science or speculative fiction. Portions of the project have already appeared in Novel and Romantic Circles. The latter, entitled “Mary Wollstonecraft’s Perpetual Disaster,” won the Keats-Shelley Association Award for Best Essay in Romanticism for 2012-2013.
The second manuscript (tentatively titled Hospitality in the Age of Austen) explores the relationship between cosmopolitan hospitality, human rights, and novel worlds in the fictions of Jane Austen, Frances Burney, Maria Edgeworth, Charlotte Smith and other romantic era writers. The chapter of the manuscript (“The Novel of Universal Peace”) recently appeared in Cultural Critique, and imagines how Burney’s The Wanderer absorbs and reformulates Immanuel Kant’s famous account of hospitality in his 1795 essay “Perpetual Peace.” I am currently completing a second essay connected to the project entitled “The Hospitality Industry: Jane Austen and the Unfinished Right of Resort” which explores the ethics of tenancy across Austen’s career, culminating in the unfinished final fragment, Sanditon.